CAIRO, Egypt – The deputy leader of Al Qaeda called President Bush a failure and a liar in the war on terror in a video statement released Friday, and he compared Pope Benedict XVI to the 11th century pontiff who launched the First Crusade.
"Can't you be honest at least once in your life, and admit that you are a deceitful liar who intentionally deceived your nation when you drove them to war in Iraq," Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a portion of the video released by the Washington-based SITE Institute.
Al-Zawahiri also criticized Bush for continuing to imprison Al Qaeda leaders in prisons, including Al Qaeda No. 3 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind who was captured in Pakistan in March 2003.
"Bush, you deceitful charlatan, 3 1/2 years have passed since your capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so how have you found us during this time? Losing and surrendering?" he said, according to the SITE Institute.
"What you have perpetrated against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Muslim captives in your prisons and the prisons of your slaves in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and elsewhere is not hidden from anyone, and we are a people who do not sleep under oppression and who do not abandon our revenge until our chests have been healed of those who have aggressed against us," the Virginia-based IntelCenter quoted the message as saying. "And we, by the grace of Allah, are seeking to exact revenge on behalf of Islam and Muslims from you and your soldiers and allies."
Al-Zawahiri, the deputy to Usama bin Laden, accused the United States and its agents of torturing Muslim prisoners seized across the Middle East.
"Your agents in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan have captured thousands of the youth and soldiers of Islam whom you made to taste at your hands and the hands of your agents various types of punishment and torture," al-Zawahiri said, according to the IntelCenter. "But we, by Allah's grace, are taking revenge on their behalf daily from your troops and the troops of your allies and agents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula and all Muslim countries from Indonesia to Morocco, and moreover, on your own soil every day."
According to the IntelCenter, al-Zawahiri said Benedict is reminiscent of Pope Urban II, who in 1095 ordered the First Crusade to establish Christian control in the Holy Land.
Al-Zawahiri's remarks about Benedict were a clear response to the pontiff's comments earlier this month that sparked outrage across the Muslim world. In that speech, Benedict cited a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
"If Benedict attacked us, we will respond to his insults with good things. We will call upon him, and all of the Christians to become Muslims who do not recognize the Trinity or the crucifixion," al-Zawahiri said, according to the SITE Institute.
Al-Zawahiri also called a U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region a "Crusader plan" and implored the Muslims of Darfur to defend themselves.
"Do not allow the government of Khartoum to interfere, nor the governments of the Western Crusaders to interfere in your business. Be ready to stop the Crusaders campaign against you," he said, according to the SITE Institute.
The nearly 18-minute statement, titled "Bush, the Pope, Darfur and the Crusades," was produced by Al Qaeda's media arm, as-Sahab. An initial segment shows al-Zawahiri in an office-type setting, while in the second part, he is in front of a brown backdrop, according to the IntelCenter. The first segment also has English subtitles.
After conducting a technical analysis of the videotape, the CIA concluded "with confidence" that the speaker is in fact Ayman al-Zawahiri, said a CIA spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. experts view the latest video as a typical propaganda message, whose main thrust is a call for more people to join the jihad, or holy war.
It wasn't immediately clear when the message was recorded, but al-Zawahiri's reference to the pope indicated the message was produced sometime after Benedict's comments about Islam, which were made on Sept. 12, the official said.
Al Qaeda has released a string of videos earlier this month timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, showing increasingly sophisticated production techniques in a likely effort to demonstrate that it remains a powerful, confident force despite the U.S.-led war on terror.